Saturday, 31 October 2020

Step 1, Exercise 2: Moving Towards Acceptance

 Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 1, Exercise 2: Moving Toward Acceptance

THE CYCLE OF UNMANAGEABILITY. We think, “It will be different next casino visit, next poker game, next bet.” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Below are some cyclic behaviours that may be familiar to you:

In Our Gambling

Chase wins/emotional highs

Try to recoup losses

Squander wins

Frustrations

Emptiness

Chase wins/emotional highs

In Our Lives

Need to escape/need time out

Defensiveness/manipulation/lying

Justification/self-pity

Isolation/denial/emotionlessness

Low self-esteem

Need to escape/need time out 

ILLUSTRATE THE PROGRESSIVE NATURE OF YOUR ADDICTION. Documenting the progression of the illness can help us prove to ourselves just how powerless we are over it. Write about specific examples from your life that illustrate how your addiction escalated, and how each attempt at controlling it failed. 

The first time I could put my finger on when my gambling changed was the first day of the 2008/2009 football season. I’d been working full time for about 3 years and my gambling was still “under control”, well, at least I thought it was at the time. My stakes were still low and I was basically doing football bets at the weekend for a bit of fun. I gambled, but it wasn’t causing me any issues. It wasn’t the most important thing in the world to me, it was just something I enjoyed doing. That Friday I walked into a bookmaker near my work and decided instead of placing a load of stupid football bets for the small stakes I had been doing, I would pick three teams for the season and do a treble each week for the total amount I would normally stake. Sheffield United, Leicester City and Leeds United were the picks. Of course, the first weekend it landed (the only time it landed all season I think) and my betting changed from that moment. I genuinely can’t remember the odds but I was staking about 10 times my normal stake and from that point on placing bets at small stakes just wasn’t appealing anymore. What was the point in that when I could stake more money and win more? From that moment my gambling started to get out of control over time. Soon after came the loans, the credit cards and then, the payday loans.

Speaking of credit cards, before I had kids, I remember one night getting a credit increase on one of my credit cards when my partner was out. It wasn’t a small sum of money either, for me anyways. It doubled what the limit was on the card. Anyways, once I was approved for the credit increase I went straight to the cash machine in town and took a cash advance. knew my partner would be out for most of the night so I went into the bookmakers to just do a couple of bets. The first few lost so I went back to the cash machine for another cash advance and back into the bookmakers. I lost again. Rinse and repeat. My bets were getting bigger and I was losing more and more money. Anytime I won, I’d just put it back on. I spent the whole night in the bookmakers until they closed and gambled away the whole credit increase. At the time I remember thinking this was totally out of character, totally out of the blue but it wasn’t. My addiction was slowly getting more and more progressive and this situation started to become more and more of a regular occurrence. 

When I look back at my gambling “career” I can see a clear progression in my addiction. When I started out gambling I would bet here and there on various events but mainly it was a weekend thing. I would set an amount I was willing to gamble, put the bets on and win or lose, go about my business afterwards and not gamble until the following week. Then, once I started to get the taste for it, I would find myself gambling a little bit more than just the weekend. I found myself going to the bookmakers during my lunch hour at work. What was a Friday trip became a Wednesday and Friday trip. Then it escalated until I was going every lunchtime. I was going to place bets for that evening but I started gambling on the South African horse racing that was on the bookmakers when I was there. Either that or greyhound racing. I found myself starting to lose track of how much I was spending. It was still within my disposable income but it was starting to eat into money for other things, such as going out with friends. This would then lead me to borrowing money to allow me to still go out and socialise with my friends. At this stage I was gambling more and more online but still going to the bookmakers at lunchtime. It wasn’t long before I was gambling money meant for bills, which I didn’t have a lot of as I was still living at home at this stage, and borrowing more money to cover this. My level of debt had escalated but I didn’t really care. I got a few consolidation loans but I just kept gambling more and borrowing more. By the time I was living with my partner and we had our son my debts had been defaulted on and I was setting up Debt Management Plans but I eventually stopped paying it as well. I was pretty much exclusively gambling online by this stage and this level of gambling continued for a good few years with periods of me “stopping” to try and control it. I never stayed stopped for long and would always go back. The last few years of my gambling escalated to where I was gambling more and more money meant for bills and having to borrow money off friends and family because my credit rating was destroyed. By the end it had escalated to the point I gambled most of my salary before the 1st of the month. This was when I finally admitted I had a gambling problem and needed help. It took my addiction 14 years to progress to that level and there was still further it could go. The next stage would have been to gamble the rent money and the food money. Then I would have been found out. Maybe that wouldn’t have been enough to get me into recovery. I would have lost my kids and my partner, living on my own. If that wasn’t enough to get me into recovery then it only left three options, prison, insanity or death.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR GAMBLING. What behaviours, choices or actions perpetrated your illusions that you had some control over the outcome of your playing or betting? What were the results of these proofs that you were in control?

When I gambled in-play on sports I followed along either by watching a live stream or watching the little graphic that the bookmakers provided showing the action. I believed that I had to follow along for my bet to win. If I wasn’t watching then my bet wouldn’t win. I took this one step further by beginning to believe I needed to be somewhere in particular for my bets to win. In work this tended to be a disabled toilet. I would bet on a goal in the 1st half of a soccer game and with 10 minutes remaining of the half I would head to the toilet to watch the rest of the half. It was the goal throne. Of course it didn’t make a difference to the outcome of the game but in my head it would be the difference in winning and losing. 

At home I would have the bookmakers website on my Chromebook following along with whatever I was betting on. If it was a live stream I would have to figure a way to hide the score on the betting site as it was a few seconds ahead of the stream provided by the bookmaker. In my head if I saw the score it would always go against me, which of course was nonsense. 

I would also get frustrated when I was gambling and my friends were sending messages into our group chat. On more than one occasion I muted the groups because I believed that their messages were the reason my bet was losing. I got angry with them, would yell and scream in the house for them to fuck off. They weren’t influencing my gambling, but I was not only blaming them, I was also drifting further away from them as well.

If I was placing a bet on horse racing or soccer or whatever, and it was an accumulator, I had to put the selections into the bet slip in date and time order from the earliest to the latest. There were times I had to empty my bet slip and start again because I had messed up the order and felt like if I didn’t fix it the bet wouldn’t win. It normally didn’t win anyways.

Finally, if I had looked at a bet and the price changed before I decided to place my bet, then I’d do one of two things depending on how the odds moved. If the odds shortened, I would put more money on it as it was a sign that it was going to win. If the odds lengthened, I would put what I would have put on it because it was a sign that it was going to win. Either way, I took it as a sign that the gambling gods were favourably looking down on me. Usually, they were not.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR ADDICTION. What gambling-related behaviours (e.g. limiting casino visits, never using credit cards, limiting ATM use, leaving with winnings, big shot behaviour) perpetuated your illusions of control over your growing obsession? What were the results of these proofs that you were in control?

Over the years I have self excluded from various online bookies for varying lengths of time. One that sticks out in my mind is when I self excluded for five years from my favourite bookie. It was around 2013 and around the time my partner found out I had taken money from our savings account to gamble. The self exclusion felt like a good idea for a few weeks and then I regretted my decision. I started gambling with other companies and I literally counted down the months until I could reopen this account. To me this proves that I was beyond the normal “responsible gambling” measures that bookmakers have to try and prevent people becoming compulsive gamblers. I was well past that point by this stage.

Despite admitting that I self excluded from places on occasion, I never really tried to control my gambling because I didn’t feel like I ever had a problem. The times I self excluded or stopped for periods of time were generally due to either money issues and realising that I needed to stop before my partner would ask questions or I would sometimes take a break over the summer as I wasn’t overly keen on flat racing (although I gambled on it enough) and the soccer was normally on a break as was the NFL. Stopping so my partner wouldn’t find out was, at least in my head at the time, because I was scared she would tell me to stop betting and I didn’t want to. Not because I was addicted of course, but because I loved it and she just wouldn’t understand that I was just having fun. After all, it was my money and it was just a hobby, so I thought.

One of the big illusions of control was probably when I started matched betting. Now, those two words would strike fear into a bookmakers heart as it is a can’t lose proposition. I was making money, “risk free”, from bookmaker offers and for a while it went well. My addition was controlled, somewhat. It wouldn’t take long before I would get bored waiting for offers and the small sums of money I was winning and I needed to start and take more risks. Matched betting was really what introduced me to the casino side of online gambling. I had dabbled here and there with it over the years but it never grabbed me. It wasn’t until I started matched betting that I saw how quickly you could win big amounts of money playing the casino vs sports. Of course, you lost the money quicker as well, but that wasn’t as important a point for my brain to take in. So I went from allegedly controlling my gambling to losing the biggest amount I ever lost in a session all because I started playing the casino. I also became a VIP with a bookmaker which meant I was staking more money and really it just spiralled even further out of control.

Towards the end I did make a solid attempt to control one part of my betting, the casino side of things, because that is where I felt my problems lay. It wasn’t the sports betting, it was fine (it fucking wasn’t), it was the casino. So I joined the Reddit Problem Gambling Sub under an alias and posted shite for a while about how I was stopping gambling which was nonsense. I was still gambling on sports. I feel like I did curb my online casino gambling over this period of time but my sports betting just took off even further than it already had. I wasn’t truly addressing the problem, I was just lying to myself but I do feel like this was the first time I was probably looking at my gambling as a potential problem. Still wasn’t fully there yet, but it was the first step.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. What behaviours or actions (e.g. attempting to control other people or events, if/then thinking) perpetuate your illusion of control over outcomes in your everyday life? What are the results of these “proofs” that you are in control?

There is a scene in Lego Batman where he holds up his good ideas tracker and it says Batman 5,678,483 and everybody else, 0 and says “no one else has ever had any good ideas, so don’t even try.” That has been me for as long as I can remember and if I’m being honest is still me at times today, but when I was gambling I didn’t give a fuck what idea someone else had because I knew it would be shit. I tried to control everybody and everything around me so I could try and keep everything as it was. I wanted that because as things stood, I was able to gamble everyday, as long as I had money. I didn’t care about what my partner wanted, my kids, my parents or my friends. I just cared about me and what I wanted and that of course, was to gamble. 

It went deeper than just trying to control the direction of what was going on around me though. I would also manipulate the situation to try and ensure I got the outcome that I wanted. That was how I managed to keep my gambling hidden for so long because I manipulated those closest to me into believing that I was some sort of saintly father working two jobs to provide for his family and with no social life. That I was doing all the right things for my family. Was I fuck. I was doing what was right for me and if I could keep my family sweet along the way that was just a bonus. I’d manipulate my friends into lending me money so I could cover the damage I had done each month with the gambling. I would borrow money off my parents for the same reason and one incident sticks out more than most. I went round, cap in hand, and asked to borrow money from them as we were decorating our living room and I had promised to pay for it. I went round with some bullshit excuse about how I made a mistake matched betting and lost the money and could I borrow it and please don’t tell my partner. When I came clean about my addiction this incident was brought up by my Dad. At the time I asked for the money, my Granda (on my Dad’s side) was extremely ill and because of this my Dad wasn’t really thinking straight and agreed to lend me it and not tell my partner without really asking any questions. It was only then that I realised how much I had manipulated him. I took advantage of my own Dad, who would have helped me out any way he could if I was honest with him but instead I was comfortable lying to his face while he was going through that. That’s the scary thing about this addiction, how it makes you extremely comfortable in situations any decent human being would find extremely uncomfortable.

When it comes to if/then thinking I was the master of that because every week without fail I would be doing that sort of thinking by writing out a budget. It felt like every week there was a new budget, sometimes everyday, where I would plan out, not just the remainder of the month, but the next month and the one after that. I would do budgets for a full calendar year basically saying IF I win £x a month THEN I will be debt free and sorted by x date. What I didn’t get was that the amounts each time I did a budget got more and more unrealistic. Now, without bigging myself up to much, I’m not a stupid bastard. I would like to think I’m fairly intelligent and anyone with half a brain cell could have looked at my budgets and said “no chance mate, you are wasting your time”. Which, to be fair, I was. 

LETTING GO. We cling to the illusion (or expectation) that we can (or should be able to) control our gambling. WE MUST LET IT GO. The truth is, we are powerless over the addiction. It controls us. It will continue to control us until we surrender.

Russ

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Step 1, Exercise 1: The Twenty Questions

 Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling, that our lives had become unmanageable. 

Step 1, Exercise 1: The Twenty Questions

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling? Yes

The amount of hours I have lost from work would be hard to calculate because I was an online gambler. I was able to give the impression that I was working since I was present at my desk every day but I would do as little as possible to not raise any questions with management and I would always come across as helpful so that people would think I was a good worker. My level of work would also be poor because I would stay up all night gambling and get hardly any sleep and come into work and barely be able to function. My concentration levels, especially after I had lost my money or put myself into a difficult financial position for the month with bills, would be extremely low for work related activities. I would be more focused on doing budgets and thinking who I could ask to borrow money to get me through the month and pay my bills while also having some extra money to gamble with than I would be on my work.

2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy? Yes

It made my home life unhappy because of how it changed me into this angry, miserable and unpredictable person. It made me resent my home life. I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to my family. I have two wonderful kids and a great partner and I had everything I ever could have wanted, but it didn’t feel like it was enough. My gambling forced me further and further into a state of isolation and instead of realising that gambling was the issue, I would blame those closest to me instead. From what I could see, I wouldn’t say that my kids and partner were unhappy because I was able to hide this addiction from them and I put on a front a lot of the time that I was doing great and I was happy. Where it impacted them though, was through a lack of time spent together as a family and money that could be spent doing fun stuff as a family was instead used by me to gamble. For a number of years I worked two jobs, the second one being part time at the weekend, so I also took that potential time away from my kids under the guise of wanting to earn more money for them when in reality it was just to earn more money so I could gamble. My daughter would usually end up in hospital a couple of times every Winter due to her asthma and it would always fall on my partner to take her to the hospital on her own as I would say I needed to work my part time job as we couldn’t afford to lose the wages. I now realise how unhappy that must have made her, that she was sitting in a hospital for hours dealing with our sick daughter and in her eyes I was putting a part time job above them when that wasn’t actually true. I was putting gambling above them.

3. Did gambling affect your reputation? Yes

I let close friendships drift away over time because of my gambling and going from having a reputation as the life and soul of the party to never going out I’m sure affected my reputation in the eyes of those friends. Of course I blamed the fact I had two kids and not that I was spending all my time and money on gambling. I also used to take pride in the fact that if I borrowed money from someone, I would pay them back on time but eventually I stopped doing that. Instead I would come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t pay it back that month and try to buy myself more time and work out a payment plan. Zero fucks were given about their situation as well because all I cared about was me. I would use my kids as an excuse as to why I couldn’t pay, that something came up with them or one of them was sick and I had to take a day off unpaid etc. Another example would be that I was in charge of several NFL fantasy leagues and responsible for all the money as well. I gambled away that money every year then when it came time to pay out the winners I would make excuses and put off paying them until I could get the money together. Now some of these people I knew personally, but a good number of them I had just met online and they trusted me without question and I broke that trust. Breaking the trust of strangers was bad enough but that of my friends I knew personally was worse. These people also stood by me when I admitted my gambling addiction and have supported me ever since. When I think about my work I feel like I had a reputation for being a hard worker and for doing a good job in my early years but over time that again slipped and I did as little as possible.

4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling? Yes

There were so many ways I could end up feeling remorse after gambling. The obvious one was when I would lose all my money and realised that I was unable to gamble for x amount of days until I was paid again. Unless I was able to borrow money from somewhere else of course. That would instinctively be my first thought. Then the remorse would come that I couldn’t actually afford to buy anything for the rest of the month and when my partner asked me to stop and grab a loaf of bread on my way home I had to think of an excuse to come home first and get her bank card to go and buy it. Not being able to buy something for less than £1 sure made me feel remorseful for gambling all my money, but it didn’t stop me going back to it. There were also times when I won and instead of withdrawing it I would try to win more and of course, I lost it all. This again would fill me with remorse for all the things I could have done with my winnings but, as I know now, no win was ever going to be enough and I was always going to gamble it away. I also felt remorse when I would lie to my friends or family to borrow money to pay bills and then gamble that money away.

5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulty? Yes

Although I now realise that my addiction wasn’t a financial problem but an emotional problem, finances still played a role day to day. I would constantly have budgets and spreadsheets working out how to get through not just the month, but also the rest of the year and beyond financially. What exactly I’d have to do and how much I would need to win each month to make it work. The bottom line is that I never intended to pay my debts off and never gamble again, solving my financial difficulties was just a way for me to be able to gamble more and with less financial stress. The more money I had available to me the more fuel I had to escape via online gambling. I was big into matched betting in 2018 which is a “risk free” way of making money from bookmaker offers. “Risk free” to someone who isn’t a compulsive gambler maybe but for me there wasn’t a thrill in just making a little bit of money each day. I used to budget my matched betting as “income” and this was going to be how I got myself out of debt. Once the offers for the day ran out I would be sitting there totally bored and eventually I started to gamble with my winnings and then it just descended into me gambling more and more. It was also a gateway into the casino side of things. 

6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency? Yes

I came into recovery not knowing who I was or who I wanted to be. I started gambling online from when I was 18 years old and if I hadn’t crossed the invisible line into addiction by then, it wasn’t long until I did. So I became an adult, got real jobs, moved out of my parents house, met my partner, had my two kids all while being in active addiction. I had no idea how a mature person behaved or how an adult would act. I had no desire to improve myself or my situation because I was more than happy gambling as often as I could, or at least I thought I was. Gambling was when I was at my happiest during my addiction even though it was the cause of all of my pain and misery. I cultivated the perfect environment for my gambling addiction not only to grow but to thrive for years and I didn’t want to do anything to stop it or for anything to get in the way of it.

7. After losing, did you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses? Yes

When I lost I took it personally that the bookmaker in question had taken my money and that I deserved to get it back. I also gambled to the point where I couldn’t afford to take the losses so I had to find a way to get it back otherwise my secret would be revealed to those around me. One of the things I came to realise in recovery is that I used online gambling as a means to escape reality and responsibilities and my fuel to escape was money. The more money I had the longer I could escape but once that money ran out then I had to chase my losses because the other option was having to face reality and my responsibilities and that was something I did not want to do. 

8. After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more? Yes

If I knew a bet was going to win then I would be looking for my next bet immediately and I was constantly looking ahead to what was coming up. No win was ever going to be enough because all I wanted to do was be in action. That was the most important thing to me looking back at it all. The only thing that normally stopped me gambling when I was winning was if I fell asleep while a bet was still in-play. Then when I woke up and saw that I had won, the first thing I had to do was get another bet on. To continue the winning streak. Although I had to increase the stakes when I won, that was also part of the game which of course meant it wouldn’t be long before I lost all the money.

9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone? Yes

My regular monthly routine was sitting up until about 1am which is when my salary would hit my bank account. During that day I would have done a budget for the upcoming month, bills, who I owed money to and how much left over I had to spend on whatever I wanted...which of course was gambling. Usually I’d send over the money to who I owed so that I would pay them back on time and would be able to borrow more from them in the future. Then I would make a deposit into my online account. Now, I would have the amount in my head that was not for bills and would know how much I had available to gamble. I got paid around 3 or 4 days before the end of the month and the majority of my bills came out on the 1st of each month. So I would gamble and hope that I would win enough to keep me gambling until my bills came out. If I did then I would just gamble whatever I had until it was gone, safe in the knowledge that I had paid my bills. That did not happen often. Instead, what usually happened was I had lost the money I had spare within 24 hours and I would start and pick which direct debits could be bounced for the month and gamble that money. I would do that until it was all gone. If I did happen to win then I would just keep gambling until that was all gone as well. Maybe I would have withdrawn some to pay a direct debit I had previously allowed to bounce to take some pressure off myself but most of the time all my winnings went right back to the bookmaker. 

10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling? Yes

I do feel that I am extremely fortunate that I was such a liability with finances at a young age. I made many terrible decisions with credit and because of that I wrecked my credit rating by the time I was in my mid twenties. A lot of my debt that I brought into recovery was defaulted on back in 2014 or before. I had consolidation loans, credit cards and payday loans all of which I used to either finance gambling or finance the bills which needed to be paid because I had used that money for gambling. I did manage to get some credit after 2014, which of course was used to practice my addiction, but my later borrowings were all from friends and family. If I had the ability to get credit the last few years I was gambling I dread to think what the financial damage could have been.

11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling? Yes

I have sold various things over the years to finance my gambling. An old PC, DVDs and a field hockey goalkeeping kit to name a few. The one thing that sticks with me the most though is when I traded in a Mini NES and Mini SNES that I received for Xmas from my partner to get money to pay bills due to gambling away all my money. I traded them in, was handed cash, walked around the corner and deposited it into my bank and before I got back to the car I had gambled most of it online. Even though I knew it was for bills I thought I could maybe get more money to not only pay bills but to continue betting as well. I ended up losing it all and had to message a friend to borrow money to cover the bills that were due to come out. So I ended up with no games consoles and in more debt.

12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures? Yes

I resented using my money on anything that wasn’t gambling related. I pretty much starved myself when I was at work because the thoughts of spending £4.00 on a sandwich for lunch seemed insane to me. I would just buy a cheap packet of biscuits (custard creams a favourite) and a couple of energy drinks on the way into work and that is what I would eat to keep me going. Usually I would buy stuff on payday and keep it in my drawer and work and once it was gone then I wasn’t eating in work for the rest of the month. I stopped going out with my friends because I didn’t want to spend the money on a night out when I could spend it gambling. I remember one night when I was younger, all my friends were at the house and they were planning to go out and I said I didn’t have much money to join them so I sat in on my own gambling instead and lost all my money. Looking back, I easily had enough money to go out and have a good time, I just didn’t want to spend it.

13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family? Yes

The amount of times I drove my car and I wasn’t fully concentrating is frightening to think about now. I also didn’t give a fuck about my health, both physical and mental, and I stopped looking after myself long ago. My kids were always looked after and there was never any issue from the point of view of food and shelter because my partner handled all that. If it was down to me then things would have been very different. I always like to think that I looked after my family but at the end of the day, if I wasn’t looking after myself then that would begin to have an impact on them whether it was intentional or not.

14. Did you ever gamble longer than you planned? Yes

With in-play betting there was almost something to bet on 24 hours a day and as long as I had money I would still be in the game. I may have planned to bet on one match or just for an hour but more often than not I would just keep going, usually until I fell asleep with a bet on. I used to bet in bookmaker shops on occasion, usually when working but sometimes my local one as well. I quickly realised how long I would spend in them and figured out that those around me would ask questions if I was missing for long periods of time. Online gambling allowed me to gamble 24 hours a day if I wanted to all while maintaining my presence around my family. One positive is that I did plan on gambling for the rest of my life and I now know that by entering and embracing recovery it has helped and will continue to help me cut short that plan.

15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness? Yes

I used these as excuses to justify my gambling but I would have gambled no matter how I felt. I believe I gambled to escape reality and responsibilities but I also gambled because I loved it, or at least thought I loved it at that time. When it comes to the boredom part, gambling destroyed my ability to find anything else in this world interesting and I was constantly bored with life. Even with things that no decent person should be bored with, such as my two kids. I blamed everything else around me for this feeling and gambled more to escape it. It was a vicious cycle. The loneliness part is another feeling that was exacerbated by gambling. Especially after I had my kids I started to turn to gambling more and more because I had no free time and didn’t have any money to go out with my friends. So I turned to gambling and those friendships drifted further apart until I felt like the only thing I had in this world was gambling. Now, from being in recovery, I can see that I didn’t have any free time because I was gambling, not because of my kids and I didn’t have any money because I was gambling it all away. The friendships drifted apart because I was more concerned with gambling than I was maintaining those relationships with people. So by gambling I was isolating myself more and more and because of that I felt lonely so was turning to gambling to try and escape that feeling.   

16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling? Yes

The way I look at this question is quite simple. Lying to someone about the reason why I needed to borrow money and then gambling it is the same as stealing it from them. Or borrowing money and not paying it back or even not planning on paying it back. Or “borrowing” money that was in the house and putting it back on payday hoping no one would notice. I have touched on this before in previous blogs as to how I was in charge of NFL fantasy leagues and was also in control of the prize money for them and I gambled it away. All of it. Which is stealing in my book. I did eventually pay the people out of my own money when I had it, after weeks of dodging them and making pathetic excuses, such as using the death of my Granda as a reason to why I hadn’t sorted the payments yet.  Some even didn’t get paid back and instead have been added to my list of people I owe money to. So yea, I have committed an illegal act to finance gambling, multiple times. 

17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping? Yes

My sleep pattern was a shambles and I would say I was sleeping about 4 hours a night on a good night. I have been looking back through my betting history and I can see the timestamps and on many occasions I went through the night gambling or close to it. One thing I can honestly say is that I never struggled to sleep because I was worried about my gambling or concerned about my financial situation or even after a huge loss. I don’t know why but I think I was just numb to it all. Whenever I tell one of my good friends about bits and pieces of my gambling history his question is always the same at the end, “how the fuck did you sleep at night?” It is crazy to think about it now and look back at how I did manage to just fall asleep even with some of the shit I must have had going on in my mind.

18. Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble? Not now

This question always fascinates me because it’s not in the past tense. It feels like it’s proof that the twenty questions aren't just for newcomers and it is something I should be going over once a year in my recovery. I am extremely lucky that I haven’t suffered from urges at all really since I have entered recovery but I know that things can change and maybe I will at some point. One quote that stuck with me from early recovery was, “I am not in control of my first thought but I am in control of my first action.” So even if I do feel urges created by either the situations listed in this question or something else, I know I do not have to act on them because urges are just thoughts. Strong, powerful thoughts, but still just thoughts. 

19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling? Yes

Again, I would have used any excuse to gambling but I can think of one example which was when I used the births of my son and daughter to constantly look through the horse racing pages each day to find a horse running that matched their names. I suppose for me, as well as celebrating good fortune with a few hours gambling I would also celebrate or try to enhance a good time with a few hours gambling. If I was out enjoying myself with friends (the very odd occasion I would go out) then I would also like to place a few bets to give me something to keep an eye on and if I won then it would make the night even better in my eyes. 

20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling? No

Thankfully I came into recovery before I reached this point and if I had been asked this question before experiencing recovery I would have said there was absolutely no chance I would ever consider it. I’ll be honest, I never understood why someone would consider suicide and thought it was either selfish or a cry for help. Clearly I was uneducated about the subject as I have met people in recovery who have answered yes to this question and these are people who also didn’t think they would reach this point either. I felt strange at first when people talked about suicide during a share. I felt uncomfortable. It was something I hadn’t experienced personally and I never knew what to say to people about it. Recovery has given me an opportunity to realise that I can ask someone if they are okay, even someone outside of G.A. Recovery has taught me not only how to talk about the subject of suicide with people but also that if I go back to gambling it’s not a question of if I would consider suicide but when. 

As you write your answer to each question, pay particular attention to any defensiveness, guilt or hesitation on your part. Search your heart. Does your yes answer come from your own experience or the accusations, anger or frustration of others? Is your no answer clear, straightforward and completely without strings, or is it hesitant or defensive? Could it be that you’re looking for a way to justify, explain or excuse the behaviour rather than simply admit it?

If a question pushes a button, there’s probably something there that needs to be looked at honestly and squarely. Now is the time to get it out into the open! Write about it in detail; talk about it with your sponsor and with others in a Steps Meeting. This is the beginning of a process that helps us to identify what’s ours and what isn’t - this is the “wisdom to know the difference” that we ask for in the Serenity Prayer.

Russ

(Anything in italics and/or bold is from the "Writing The Steps" booklet and the rest is my own)

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Boredom

My name is Russ and I haven’t had a bet today or since my last meeting. I’ve been at a couple of meetings this week and the topic of boredom has come up and while sharing I came to a realisation that I wanted to explore a bit more via my blog. Before continuing on to talk about boredom it’s always good for me to get the definition from the Cambridge Dictionary, which is;

“feeling unhappy because something is not interesting or because you have nothing to do”

Firstly, I am going to start off with feeling bored in recovery because it is something that I know I was worried about experiencing, not just in the early days, but also the longer I stayed in recovery. In the early days I was told how important it was to fill the void left by gambling and I did that through various means, like digging out my old PS3 and buying cheap pre owned games or spending Saturday evening at a friends house and vice-versa. Of course I did other, more important things, such as spend more time with my kids and partner and go to meetings but because I was an online gambler the void was more noticeable late at night when I would be on my own. I also wrote my blog and worked the Steps, listened to podcasts, basically whatever it took. There were plenty of things I had neglected or not experienced due to gambling and this gave me an opportunity to explore new things or rediscover previous interests. 

In addition to this, there was (still is) the fear that I would get bored with recovery and slowly drift away from it which in my opinion means it is just a matter of time before I slowly drift back towards gambling. Luckily that isn’t a fear that has been realised and I will continue to do all I can to make sure it stays that way. With Covid-19 forcing many people to Zoom, the amount of meetings that have either been created or had an increase in numbers has given my own personal recovery a huge boost. It also seems like this format will remain popular when Covid-19 eventually (hopefully) comes under control worldwide.

Following on from this, during my first year in recovery I was a member of a group that met via Skype then Zoom before it was cool. Things changed in that group and stuff happened between me and my former sponsor and I left the group for the sake of my own recovery. It was a toxic atmosphere and to be honest being in that environment was the closest I got to my fear of getting bored with recovery becoming reality. So I left and found a new group and through that group I have met amazing people and made real friendships which have taken my recovery further than I could have ever imagined. What it also showed me was that there is no excuse for me being bored in recovery. There is so much recovery out there that if I do feel like a group is having a negative effect on me I can go somewhere else. Of course if this happens on a regular basis then maybe the problem is me and not the groups but that’s probably a different topic for a different day. 

Another issue I have had, and I know from listening to others I am not alone in this, is not finding something else in recovery that gives me the same highs that gambling did. Now anytime this comes up my response is the same, I don’t think it is possible for me to find something that gives me the same highs as gambling did but that is fine because after the high highs there always followed low lows and I don’t experience them in recovery. Even saying that, there becomes a perception that without the highs, life in recovery is just boring which I probably would have agreed with in the early stages of my recovery. Now to be clear, I had no problem with being bored in recovery, I quite enjoyed it but I do feel like I am doing a disservice to my life I have now by claiming it is boring. Going back to the definition at the start of the blog it talks about having nothing to do or not being interested in something. Recovery has given me not only the time but a clear mind to focus on things. Given the fact I have two young kids I have no excuse to not be interested in something they are doing at any point in the day. I am able to enjoy time with them now, which was something I didn’t do when I was gambling. Even when they are in bed though I have so many things available to me that if I claim to be bored then it is a problem with me and not with recovery. I can pick up my Kindle and read a book, I can watch a film on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I can join a meeting or I can talk to my friends both old and new. That list is not exhaustive.

Which brings me to the realisation I had surrounding boredom and it isn’t to do with my recovery but it is to do with my gambling. I’ve already mentioned the highs and the buzz that gambling gave me that I know can not be replicated but looking back the only time I felt true boredom was when I was gambling. Those times I was waiting the 10 minutes between horse races that felt like hours. Or when I logged into my account in the morning of an international break in soccer and the games were so spread out for in-play betting that I was waiting hours between games to get my fix. Another example would be with tennis, where at the start of the week there are so many games because tournaments have just started but by the time you get to the middle or end of the week and they are winding down there are hardly any games on. Don’t even get me started about rain delays in tennis when that would wash out any betting “opportunities”. Xmas Day was another day full of boredom when I had either Egyptian soccer or Israeli soccer to bet on in the afternoon before a few NBA games at night. As I said earlier, I have two young kids and I was bored on Xmas Day which is a disgusting admission but it is the truth. Gambling destroyed my ability to find anything else in this world interesting and I was constantly bored with life. Even with things that no decent person should be bored with. I blamed everything else around me for this feeling and gambled more to escape it. It was a vicious cycle. To steal and reword a quote from the highly intellectual Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies in regards to this particular topic;

I gambled because I was bored, and I was bored because I gambled.

This was an important realisation for me to have because although I do not suffer from urges or a desire to gamble at the time of writing this, my perception of what gambling gave me has now changed. I haven’t left behind some exciting life by coming into recovery and turning into a boring bastard, I’ve left behind the boring bastard who did nothing only gamble and I have opened the door to a new and exciting life for not only me, but those around me. 

Russ


Sunday, 11 October 2020

Religion In My Recovery

My name is Russ and I haven’t had a bet today or since my last meeting. It has been a while since I last wrote a blog and it’s simply because I haven’t had much to write about. I still haven’t gambled and past the 18 month milestone recently and during Covid-19 my recovery has gotten stronger with the amount of meetings available via Zoom. I’ve found a great set of meetings in Georgia and met some amazing people through them and have also added a Sheffield meeting to my weekly routine. Recovery is out there, in more ways than ever before, for anyone who wants to find it and you really will be spoiled for choice. Keep that in mind as you read on.

So, why am I writing a blog today? What has happened to get me typing again? I was at a meeting recently and from a personal point of view it was the worst meeting I have attended in a long time, maybe ever, as it went completely overboard on religion during many of the shares and it frustrated me. The meeting was about Steps 1, 2 and 3 and for anyone that doesn’t know they are:

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over gambling - that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.

As you can see, there are mentions of a Power greater than ourselves and people do interchange that with God or say that their Higher Power is God and I have no issue with that. Where I have to draw the line is when it becomes more like a sermon and people are using their share to preach because I didn’t sign up for that and if I wanted to hear it I’d go to a place of worship and this was how the meeting in question came across to me. I know if that had of been one of my first meetings I would have threw my hands up and went “fuck this shit, this ain’t for me” and left and wouldn’t have came back. 

I can make the argument that people should be allowed to share whatever they want and I do not want to come across as someone who wants to tell people what they can and cannot say in a meeting. My issue is, especially with those who have time in the program, is that although recovery is a “selfish program” (something else I disagree with...maybe it is my ego) that isn’t an excuse to ignore how other people may feel about contentious issues and religion is one. It even mentions it in the literature that:

“Gamblers Anonymous is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any cause.” 

This statement, for me, covers religion. I try, and I’m sure I fail at times, to not alienate other members when I share. I want to make sure people come back and I also want them to feel like recovery is a place they can belong and thrive. For me, it is not helpful for others or good practice of Step 12 (Having made an effort to practice these principles in all our affairs, we tried to carry this message to other compulsive gamblers) to use my time to rant and rave and tell people how they should do things or to share for far longer than required to push an agenda without thought of who is in the room. That’s just me. The longer I am in the program the better and more concise my shares should become.

In saying all that, I have to ask myself this question. Am I the problem? In short, maybe. I will hold my hands up and say I am not a religious person and my spirituality is significantly lacking which of course gives me something to work on during my recovery journey and I also have trouble separating religion and spirituality but that is probably a different topic for another blog. 

Furthermore, when I came into recovery seeing the word God would immediately make me roll my eyes or hearing someone mention it would put me off listening to them. That was my problem and it’s something I have been working on in recovery. I’m a big believer in HOW: Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness so I started to internally tell myself to wise up and listen when I found myself rolling my eyes or zoning out of a share and I have gotten better. In fact, I enjoy listening to how someone uses their religion as their Higher Power because they have something I do not have and I can potentially learn from them. It could be my ego or it could be that I’m not actually as open minded as I think I am and I can’t really argue against that. I do have an ego that I am working on and will continually be working on and I find that writing about stuff like this can help me.

Additionally, I have to recognise that where I am from plays a role in my view on this. Growing up in Northern Ireland I have seen the impact that religion can have on people and on a country. I have seen how religion can be used to divide people and stir up hatred. That has turned me off religion and I need to make sure I don’t allow it to turn me off my recovery because people mention religion during their share. As I said earlier, I have been working on it and will continue to work on it but there is always going to be a line and in my opinion there should be a line to enable the recovery program to remain inclusive for all members. 

To conclude, my issue isn’t that people are religious or believe in a god, far from it, more power to them. My issue is how it can impact the recovery of other people when it goes too far. It’s no secret that religion is something that puts people of Gamblers Anonymous as a quick Google search or a read of Facebook groups or Reddit threads could tell you. I can only speak for myself but I feel like I have a responsibility to let people know that you can recover without religion the same way you can recover with it. One of my good friends in recovery sent me a quote the other day which I really liked:

"Religion can't enhance the 12 steps but the 12 steps can enhance any religion "

Finally, I just wanted to share my take on the Steps from my point of view because I cannot help but feel the message I got from that meeting I attended was without having religion you will never be able to “get” recovery, which in my opinion, is bollocks. It is also possible my opinion is bollocks and that’s OK too because it is important to remember that opinions are like ass-holes, everybody has one. So here is a very brief look at how I interpret the first three Steps from a non religious point of view.

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over gambling - that our lives had become unmanageable.

This Step is all about admitting I needed help and realising that my way of thinking and living wasn’t working. Finally admitting I had a gambling problem was a huge step for me and it was me finally realising the damage it was causing not just to me but to those closest to me.

Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

The Power greater than myself can be anything from God, Allah, my kids, my parents, my friends, the group, the program itself or my toaster. It doesn’t really matter. A great one I heard recently was someone using the door knob they use to enter the meeting room was their Higher Power. Whatever I choose, what is important for me is to realise I am not the centre of the universe and that there are other things more important than my needs and wants. I was a selfish prick when I was gambling and didn’t care about anybody but myself. Step 2 is all about me realising not only are there other people who matter but also that connections with those people are important going forward and vital to my recovery, which leads me to Step 3.

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.

This, for me, is all about admitting I can’t do this on my own and I need other people to help me. Admitting that I don’t have all the answers and I never will and to realise that it is OK to reach out and ask for help. What I love about recovery is I have met so many great people that will help me get through the tough times and will be there to celebrate the good times as well. 

I’ll end with this. There is only one requirement to be a member of Gamblers Anonymous and that is a desire to stop gambling. If you have that desire you can work the Steps and develop a strong recovery that works for you.

Russ